Alcohol Harm Reduction

What is Alcohol Harm Reduction (AHR)?

Alcohol harm reduction (AHR) describes policies or programmes that focus directly on reducing the harm resulting from the use of alcohol.

AHR includes policies which seek to reduce consumption of alcohol, such as controlled drinking, minimum unit pricing and restrictions on advertising.
It also includes policies which reduce the potential for harm without reducing alcohol consumption. These include measures to reduce drink-driving and implement safety measures in bars and nightclubs


AHR can help to reduce the prevalence of noncommunicable diseases, including cardiovascular diseases, cancers and liver diseases.
It reduces alcohol-related injuries, including both injuries to those consuming alcohol, as well as those around them.

Such injuries include road traffic injuries, falls, assaults, drownings and burns.

Reduce Transmissions.

AHR can help to reduce transmission of infectious diseases, including HIV and TB, as alcohol consumption increases transmission risks by suppressing immune responses.

AHR policies in practice

Recent research has examined the implementation of harm reduction programmes among vulnerable populations, such as people experiencing homelessness. Managed alcohol programmes were found to contribute to a reduction in alcohol consumption, (Drug and Alcohol Review, University of Victoria).

In the UK, Local Alcohol Profiles for England provide information on harm reduction measures in place and their impact in each region, with the aim of supporting local improvements to harm reduction provisions, (Public Health England).

In South Africa, alcohol harm reduction measures have been recommended in the Western Cape. These include restrictions on alcohol advertising, limited alcohol trading hours, increased prices through taxes or minimum unit pricing, a reduction on alcohol content in drinks, and the provision of funding for a communications campaign around the harms associated with alcohol consumption, (Western Cape Government).

The Scale of the Problem

The harm resulting from alcohol abuse is a function of volume of alcohol consumed (in units) and the frequency of consumption. According to the World Health Organisation, alcohol is the third leading risk factor for poor health globally, of which a significant proportion occur in the young. Whilst being one of the four commonest risk factors for non-communicable disease, the harmful use of alcohol also contributes to the health burden due to communicable diseases, such as tuberculosis and HIV/AIDS. Statistically, the scale of the problem warrants concerted efforts to reduce the harmful use of alcohol:

3 Million deaths per year

Responsible for 5.1% of the global burden of disease (7.1% and 2.2% for males and females, respectively)

The leading risk factor for premature mortality and disability in those aged 15-49, accounting for 10% of all deaths in this age group.

Every 10 seconds someone dies from alcohol-related causes

SAFER Interventions

In 2018, the World Health Organisation and United Nations, in collaboration with international partners, launched the SAFER initiative. It is a package of proven, cost-effective interventions to reduce the harms caused by alcohol:

S :

Strengthen restrictions on alcohol availability.

A :

Advance and enforce drink driving counter measures.

F :

Facilitate access to screening, brief interventions and treatment.

E :

Enforce bans or comprehensive restrictions on alcohol advertising, sponsorship, and promotion.

R :

Raise prices on alcohol through excise taxes and pricing policies.